What’s N.J. Governor Chris Christie running for?

Less than 18 months before the next national election, the Republicans lack a frontrunner or anyone who can excite the Republican base as a plausible challenger to President Obama. With Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels out for personal reasons, the Republican field boils down to former Governors Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, and Jon Huntsman, and some even more improbable wannabes waiting in the wings or fighting for a place on the stage.

No wonder concerned Republicans are looking desperately for someone else who has both personality and electability. And no wonder that so many have converged on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who has both, having ousted his Democratic predecessor in a Democratic state in 2010, and then taken on the mantle of educational and tax reformer battling unions and liberals.

Governor Christie has admitted being flattered by all the encouragement, but he has been vehement that he will not be a candidate for president in 2012. I believe him. He’s only 48 years old, compared to Romney who is 63, Pawlenty who is 50, and Huntsman who is 51. And he’s the only one in that group who has a real, full-time job. So it makes sense for him to spend some time as a chief executive and seek the presidency in some later year when the Democratic opponent will be less formidable than President Obama.

But if Governor Christie was just interested in doing his current job, what’s with all the national media interviews in which he repeatedly gets to deny that he will run for president in 2012, while highlighting the widespread encouragement that he do so? Those national media interviews don’t just happen by accident. They have to be deliberately scheduled by Governor Christie and his staff. Wouldn’t it make more sense to do the national media once a national campaign for president is actually on the horizon?

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Here’s what I think. While Governor Christie has ruled out running for President in 2012, he has never ruled out running for vice-president in 2012. That would be a much more attractive opportunity for him.

The main reason is that a vice-presidential campaign is much shorter, just over two months from the nominating convention in August to the election in November. And vice-presidential nominees do not have to organize a national campaign organization or do the full-court fundraising that a presidential campaign requires prior to the convention.

But a short vice-presidential campaign, even if unsuccessful, can establish a candidate as a national personality. See Sarah Palin.

The trick is to get selected by the presidential nominee to be his or her running mate. That’s where the national media come in.

Governor Christie and his staff are doing a great job of using the national media to make him known to those seeking the Republican nomination for president, and to demonstrate his widespread national support. And it just might work.

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